Empathy no substitute for effectiveness

January 31, 2018

The child poverty legislation introduced by Jacinda Ardern yesterday is long on intention and very short on substance:

The Government’s proposed child poverty legislation is predictably full of positive intentions but contains no substance to address the drivers of deprivation, National Party leader Bill English says.

“The Prime Minister has announced plans to introduce legislation that requires Ministers to report publicly on the number of children in poverty, to set targets, and to develop a strategy.

“National shares the Government’s goal of reducing child poverty. But you don’t need new legislation for any of this. In fact, the public service is already reporting publicly on the exact measures the Government is proposing.

Thanks to National’s economic stewardship, the Government has had the luxury of being able to allocate surplus cash to lift family incomes, picking up National’s Family Incomes package, with some additions.

“But what is much harder is changing the lives of our most vulnerable families trapped in deprivation by long term benefit dependence, low educational achievement and recidivist crime. Poverty isn’t just about lifting incomes.

The causes of poverty are complex and solving the problem takes a lot more than giving families more money.

Inexplicably, the Government last week announced it will abolish the Better Public Services targets we designed to tackle these issues, seemingly for no other reason than they were National’s initiatives.

“The targets we designed focused the public service on reducing benefit dependence, increasing educational achievement and reducing crime, to name just a few.

These measures addressed the causes rather than just treating symptoms.

“During our tenure we found the ability to eyeball the specific Minister or public servant responsible for delivering a particular target drove significant change. I’m enormously proud to say we reduced the number of children living in material hardship by 85,000 over the last five years by taking that approach.

“By getting rid of these targets, the Government has thrown away the very tools to attack these drivers of poverty.

“But the Government’s new proposals are so high level and general that they refer to no one in particular, and no one will be held responsible for any lack of progress.

“A plan that will really, truly tackle child poverty must address the drivers of social dysfunction and hold the public service accountable, not just rely on the Government’s good intentions.

“The National Party is committed to reducing child poverty, achieving tangible results and promoting evidence-based policies that actually work. . .

The Taxpayers’ Union says the Bill will deliver socialism rather than better lives for children:

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, “Tying poverty measures to the median income is simply a target for socialism. It means that as long everyone is equally poor, Labour will have met their goal.” . . .

“The saddest thing about these proposals is they suggest Labour’s claimed concern for kids in hardship was fake all along. This is leftist ideology with no mention of economic growth, getting people of welfare, productivity, employment, and entrepreneurship.”

David Farrar pointed out that when she was in opposition Jacinda Ardern had two members bills, neither of which got anywhere for very good reason:

. . .Her first bill on adoption was a press release pretending to be a bill. It merely instructed the Law Commission to go write the real bill and have the Government introduce it. The bill was so bad even the Greens voted against it. It actually undermined the real work done cross party by Kevin Hague and Nikki Kaye who met with all the stakeholders, with law professors, adoption groups and wrote a detailed law reform bill.

Her latest bill is much the same. It is labelled the Child Poverty Reduction and Eradication Bill. It basically sets up a a Child Poverty Reduction Board! That’s it. It’s a sound bite not a serious law.

In no way do I think Jacinda doesn’t care about gay adoption and child poverty. She does. But the consistent pattern in her career has been that she prioritises empathy over effectiveness. . . 

With all the resources available now she’s Prime Minister, she ought to have done much better with the child poverty bill.

Instead it looks like she is continuing to prioritise empathy over effectiveness in government.

 

 


BPS targets

March 15, 2016

The Public Service is working hard to meet the targets the government set for better public services:

Student achievement is ahead of target, welfare dependence continues to fall, immunisation rates are growing and child abuse rates are stabilising, Ministers Bill English and Paula Bennett say.

The Government has released the latest update of the Better Public Services (BPS) Results, outlining their progress against the ten challenging targets set by the Prime Minister in 2012.

The BPS targets include reducing long-term welfare dependence, supporting vulnerable children, boosting skills and employment, reducing crime, and improving public and business interaction with government.

Provisional 2015 NCEA Level 2 achievement results show the proportion of 18-year olds who achieve a NCEA Level 2 qualification has increased to 84.4 per cent, from 74.3 per cent in 2011.

“This means the target of 85 per cent by 2017 has almost been meet, two years ahead of schedule,” Mr English says.

The number of benefit recipients has decreased by 7,245 in a year, largely driven by decreases in Sole Parent Support and Job Seeker support numbers.

“This is good news on two levels because sole parents are getting into the workforce and becoming independent.

“In the last year we’ve reduced the long term cost of benefit dependence by $2.4 billion dollars through welfare reform and better support for beneficiaries to get back to work.”

The reduction of cost isn’t the only benefit. Social indicators such as health, education and crime are better for people in work and their children than for those on benefits.

The most recent results show that since the targets were introduced:

  • the proportion of immunised 8-month olds has increased from 82 per cent to  93.7 per cent
  • there has been a 45 per cent decrease in people being hospitalised for the first time with rheumatic fever, a disease of poverty
  • the trend in the number of children and young people experiencing substantiated physical abuse has flattened, after previously being on an upward trajectory
  • total crime, violent crime and youth crime have dropped 17 per cent, 10 per cent and 39 per cent respectively
  • 52.9 per cent of government service transactions with citizens are now completed digitally, up from 29.9 per cent in 2012

“This has always been an aspirational Government, which is why we set challenging targets in areas that matter to New Zealanders, like ensuring our schools deliver outstanding education, healthcare is reaching those who most need it, and our communities are safe,” State Services Minister Paula Bennett says.

“Without doubt, we wouldn’t be seeing these kinds of results without the hard work and dedication from hundreds of thousands of public servants across New Zealand.

“We’re committed to backing them to do their jobs, which is why we’re spending more on frontline services and changing our structures so agencies can work together more effectively.”

The latest Better Public Service Results update can be found here

New Zealand National Party's photo.


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